How can you train your clinicians to be better therapists? Do you or any of your clinicians suffer from imposter syndrome? Have you identified your ideal client?
In this podcast episode, Alison Pidgeon speaks to Aaron Potratz about helping clinicians to provide the best services.
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Meet Aaron Potratz
Aaron is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Clinical Supervisor in Oregon, the owner of Discover Counseling, and co-owner of Life Discovery Counseling Services – two private group counseling practices. He maintains his own client caseload while also managing and supervising his counseling staff.
He started out as a solo practitioner in 2007, expanded to a group practice in 2015, and started his second practice with his business partner, Nathan Hawkins, in 2016. Between the two businesses, he has 10 clinicians and one support staff. Aaron also provides consulting for therapists, helping them grow their practices and focus in on the areas they are most passionate about.
In This Podcast
- The new dynamic of having a business partner
- Training your clinicians to be better therapists
- Imposter syndrome
- Identifying your ideal client
- Deciding on a niche
- Imparting information to staff
- Killin’ It Camp 2020
The new dynamic of having a business partner
Both Aaron and Nathan got lonely in their private practice, doing things by themselves and experiencing uncertainty or doubt. Partnering up was a great opportunity to bounce ideas off of each other and share visions, but also to collaborate on some creative ideas. The first thing that came out of it was the other business, so ever since that, they have worked very closely with each other. They also try to align their own businesses pretty similarly as they share a suite in the same office. This gives them the opportunity to talk between clients and consult with and support each other.
When seeing clients, it’s really nice to get an outside perspective, whether through formal consultation or just talking to other therapists, so getting that for the business side of things has been really valuable.
Training your clinicians to be better therapists
As you go from solo to group practice, you realize all of the things that you have to explain to other people. Aaron started taking note of what he was doing with clients that was working and translated it into policies and procedures that he would use to train his supervisees. They would also have lots of questions and a number of issues so Aaron would work out his own process with them. He realized he’s actually a pretty good therapist. He knows what he’s doing. He’s got the experience. Through these processes and teaching his supervisees, Aaron realized that these actually really work.
In Oregon, when you become a supervisor, you have another supervisor that oversees how you’re doing things and gives you feedback. Aaron’s then supervisor, Lisa, was telling him that she thought he was onto something and he was really nailing all of the things that supervisees tend to go through. He started writing the processes down and organizing them and is now presenting these things to hopefully help supervisors or business owners be able to improve their practices.
This is the first thing that Aaron deals with when coaching clinicians. A lot of business owners/therapists go through this imposter syndrome. In order to deal with this imposter syndrome, we all need to know who we are, develop our therapist identity, and understand how we do things individually, what makes us unique, and what makes us successful.
Identifying your ideal client
When starting out, Aaron was afraid of niching down as he didn’t want to lose out on clients. Oftentimes, when you’re a generalist clinician, handling all sorts of issues, some of those issues can actually really wear you down. For some people, being a generalist is great and it works for them, but for others, actually discovering what they are good at, and what specialty they enjoy, is the direction that they need to go. It took Aaron a number of years to learn this and it’s now a requirement of his.
He helps clinicians identify who they really enjoy working with and what brings them passion. It is not an easy process as it’s a huge mind shift for a lot of people. Once Aaron identified his ideal clients, he started to market towards those niches, put service pages on his website specific to those issues, and connected with each one of those clinicians. Aaron can tell that his clinicians feel more comfortable with themselves and they’re happier with their work because they are doing more of what they’re looking forward to.
Deciding on a niche
Aaron often rescues clinicians from community mental health or situations of burnout. When you go from having to see everybody to suddenly being able to pick and choose, there’s a huge amount of personal guilt that goes along with it. Therapists generally have big hearts and want to help the most people possible so saying no to some people just feels wrong. Helping clinicians understand that they’re not saying no to those people, they’re saying yes to the right people who will really bring them energy and enable them to help the best…it takes time for people to wrap their minds and emotions around that. But inevitably, they feel much more excited to do the work and are revived again.
Imparting information to staff
From the first time, Aaron did it with his first employee, he was developing processes. He didn’t want to do something and then reinvent the wheel. When he figured something out, he would go back and make a list, outline, or checklist, something that he could go back to for the next time. He now has a checklist of things that he does to onboard people, as well as things that the new clinicians can use to orient themselves to how they work as a practice. Aaron tries to onboard people using his system, right away because he wants them to know the culture of their organization and that this is what makes them successful. Aaron wants to find out as early as possible if someone is the best fit as he is also helping employees figure that out for themselves. If it’s taking a while and he’s getting some resistance, then he’s going to be able to address it early on.
- 5 Things I Learned from Buying an Office Building | GP 18
- PoP Group Practice Owners Facebook Group
- Killin’It Camp
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- Free resources to help you start, grow and scale
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- Consult With Alison
Meet Alison Pidgeon
Alison is a serial entrepreneur with four businesses, one of which is a 15 clinician group practice. She’s also a mom to three boys, wife, coffee drinker, and loves to travel. She started her practice in 2015 and, four years later, has two locations. With a specialization in women’s issues, the practices have made a positive impact on the community by offering different types of specialties not being offered anywhere else in the area.
Alison has been working with Practice of the Practice since 2016 and has helped over 70 therapist entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses, through mastermind groups and individual consulting.
Thanks For Listening!
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I have a great interview for you today with a group practice owner, Aaron Potratz. He and I do a deep dive into talking about ways to help your clinicians retain clients by making sure they are going over important pieces of the informed consent, and they’re marketing to their ideal client, and lots of other really juicy titbits of information. I really like this topic because this inevitably comes up with the group practice owners that I talk to, that they have an underperforming clinician and Aaron has figured out how to make this a part of his onboarding process and his training process so that, right from the start, these clinicians are doing these things that are going to help them build a caseload and have satisfied clients, and be able to retain clients as well. So, give a listen to this great interview with Aaron Potratz.
Hello, and welcome to the Grow a Group Practice podcast. I’m Alison Pidgeon, your host. I’m very excited to have Aaron Potratz on the podcast today. Aaron is a licensed professional counselor and clinical supervisor in Oregon. He’s the owner of Discover Counseling and co-owner of Life Discovery Counseling Services, which are two private group counseling practices. He maintains his own client caseload while also managing and supervising his counseling staff. He started out as a solo practitioner in 2007, expanded to a group practice in 2015, and started his second practice with his business partner, Nathan Hawkins in 2016. And so, between the two businesses, he has 10 clinicians and one support staff. He provides consulting for therapists, helping them grow their practices and focus in on areas they are most passionate about. Thank you so much for joining us today, Aaron. Welcome.[AARON]:
Thanks for having me on. I’m excited to be here. [ALISON]:
Yeah. Can you tell us a little bit more about your two practices? And I’m also curious about, you know, how you have two different practices, and what made you make that decision, and how does that work for you? [AARON]:
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Well, I have a lot of energy, I guess, would be one of the first things to say. I just have a lot of ideas and energy and I like to try to push myself and do lots of different things. So that’s one of the pieces of just owning my own business led me to move from a solo practitioner, to wanting to expand into a group, as well as reaching that point in my career where I was full and had a waitlist for quite a while and I had people still coming to me and I just needed to expand. And so, I decided to hire more people and reach more people through having employees that way. And then, as I was kind of doing that process, I partnered with Nathan Hawkins, who I had known since grad school; we had been in a consultation group together with and supported each other over the years. And there just kind of became a need for some Christian-specific counseling in a certain part of town. Along with some people that were letting us know that they were looking for jobs. And they knew we had these growing group practices. And so it was kind of a situation of putting two and two together; connecting the dots here where there were clients asking us for referrals in this area, which we didn’t service, and didn’t know of anybody in that area. And then clinicians who were looking for a job. So, we just decided to partner up together. We both had our separate individual practices that were going pretty well. And we just decided to start something new where we wouldn’t see clients out of ourselves, but we would supervise people and that, over the last, let’s see, four years or so, has expanded into two sites. We’ve got one kind of in the east side of town, here in the Portland Metro area of Oregon, and then one closer to the beach on the west side. So, closer to the mountains and closer to the beach is where we’ve got two sites now. So, it’s been really fun to have a couple of different ways of doing things. Two groups of people that we very much treat as one big family, and he’s got his own business too. And we all support each other as one big group. But it’s been a lot of fun to supervise and help people grow that in a different way than I do my own business. [ALISON]:
Nice. So, I have a follow up question, what is it like then when you had your own business for so long, and then you formed another business, and now you have a business partner? Do you appreciate that you have that back and forth, or you need to run things by him when you make a decision? Or is it a pain because you’re like, I can’t just do whatever I want because now I have a partner? [AARON]:
Yeah, that’s a great question. For us, together and separately, we just got really lonely. And we were just doing this whole private practice thing by ourselves, experiencing a lot of uncertainty or doubt about what we’re doing. And so yeah, it was a great opportunity to bounce ideas off of each other, to share some visions and dreams, but also to collaborate on some creative ideas that we might have. And I think that’s the first thing that came out of that was that other business. So, ever since then we’ve been working really closely together, asking each other questions about, hey, what do you think about this? Or, what’s your perspective on this policy? Or just things that we’re doing our business with; we try to align them pretty similarly, because we do share a suite here in the office I’m in. So, his employees are down the hall from me, and it gives us an opportunity to be able to talk with each other between clients and consult with each other, or just support each other for having a long day. So just the added support for this difficult job that we have, both on the clinician level and also on the business owner level has just been phenomenal. [ALISON]:
Nice, so it sounds like you’ve already had a good relationship and now it’s just kind of adding to your success of your business, to have somebody else for support and make decisions and not feel so lonely. [AARON]:
Yeah, I mean, as a clinician, everybody who has their own clients knows that when you see clients, it’s really nice to get an outside perspective sometimes, whether that’s through consultation in a formal group or just talking with some other therapists about, hey, I’ve got a situation, what would you do about this? And it’s nice to have that same kind of support and consultation from the business side of things. As a group practice owner, none of my, well, I should say, none of my clinicians are practice owners as well, they’re employees. And so, on that end it can get kind of lonely not knowing what to do or ideas I have, does this make sense? And so, having somebody to support you on that end has been really, really valuable. [ALISON]:
Definitely. Yeah. It’s hard to find people who understand the business side and can support you or help you think through those decisions, for sure. [AARON]:
Yeah. So, I know one of the topics that you wanted to discuss on the podcast today, which I thought was super valuable, was talking about how to train or help clinicians either through the clinical supervision process, or just in a training role or a managerial role, how to help them be better therapists, which ultimately then improves your counseling practice. So, I’d really love to dive into that topic. How did you put that together? Or how did you figure that out along the way of running the group practice? [AARON]:
Yeah, it’s interesting; as you go from solo to group practice, you realize all the things that you’re doing need to be explained to other people, of okay, this is now how other people are going to do these things, because it’s not just me, but it’s employees that are going to do this. So, I started paying attention to things I was doing with clients that seemed to work really well. And then try to translate that into policies and procedures that I would train my supervisees on. And they would also have a lot of questions about, oh, you know, these new clients aren’t really sticking, or they’ve only seen me a few sessions, and they’re already wanting to back off every other week, or just any number of issues, maybe, you know, over the course of time, things petered out, or just they hit a stuck point, or whatever.
And so, I was working some of my own process out with them and realizing, hey, I’m a pretty good therapist. I think I know what I’m doing here. I’ve got some experience. I’ve been in practice since ’07 and some of them were either newer or had been only licensed for a few years. And so, I just started working some of my own practices out with them and teaching them and realizing, hey, these actually kind of work. And then I have a supervisor, I guess you could say When you, here in Oregon, you become a supervisor, you have to have a supervisor supervise your supervision, if that’s not confusing. But it’s great because it’s somebody overseeing how you do things, giving you feedback. And when I did that, she was fantastic. Her name is Lisa [unclear]. And I’ve stuck with her, and we still meet once a month and we do some consulting now too. But she was telling me, hey, I think you’re onto something. I think you seem to be getting these things. And so, I started writing them down and organizing them. And she would tell me, I think you’re pretty much nailing all the things that, typically, supervisees tend to go through, and that helps me. I like to know what I’m doing, and as I’m doing that, I organize things and hammer them out. So that’s why I wanted to be here to present these things and hopefully help supervisors or business owners be able to improve their practices.[ALISON]:
Yeah, that’s great. Um, so what would you say is the first topic related to what you try to coach your clinicians on? [AARON]:
Yeah. Everybody knows this one. It’s the Imposter Syndrome. I think as business owners, as therapists, in a lot of industries, people go through this Imposter Syndrome. In order to have a really, I think, successful group practice, and for your business to really have a strong identity, we all need to deal with this Imposter Syndrome. We need to know who we are, develop our therapist identity, and understand who we are and how we do things individually, that makes us unique, and that makes us successful. Because, Alison, the way you do things can be very different than the way I do things. And people are gonna want to see you for certain reasons that are very different from the reasons that people would want to see me. So, as whether a manager or a supervisor, helping people see the value in who they are and how they do things, is really hard. But it’s, I think, a really important thing in helping people accept this about themselves as clinicians. And then as they do that, I think those clinicians become more confident in how they do things. You know, at first maybe you learn EFT or you learn some IFS, and you’re copying a model in the way that you’ve seen done it, you know, the way Sue Johnson does it or whatever. But each one of us has to learn, what does it look like and sound like for me that’s most natural? Because clients are going to pick that up. They’re going to know whether you’re being genuinely yourself or not. [ALISON]:
Yeah, for sure. I remember being a young therapist and feeling very insecure about what I knew, and how I was conducting therapy. And just realizing that the fact that we go through all of this advanced education, we do know so much more than our typical client. And so, to feel confident about that; we do know what we’re talking about, they gave us a license for a reason. [AARON]:
But then when it comes to selling yourself in the private practice world, or marketing yourself and saying, hey, I’ve got this to offer; that tends to rub a lot of clinicians the wrong way because they’re like, oh, I don’t want to be salesy. I don’t want to pitch myself; I just want to do therapy. And, in essence, you have to overcome that in order to realize, hey, I’ve got something to offer here, and this is valuable. Come see me. [ALISON]:
Right, right. Exactly. Yeah, so in terms of Imposter Syndrome too, do you feel like sometimes then, if a clinician doesn’t feel very confident about themselves, they may not be maybe pushing a client as much as they should, or maybe they’re not setting boundaries with the client because they don’t want to be seen as a bad therapist, or they’re being mean, or, you know what I mean? Because I think a big piece of a lot of therapeutic interventions, you know, it is very appropriate to set boundaries or to push our clients so they see things in a different way. And I remember too, again, as a young therapist, being sometimes afraid of setting those boundaries for clients. [AARON]:
Yeah, exactly. I think moving from a therapist who is trying to understand, you know, who I am and what am I offering into, okay, I’m perfectly comfortable with that, I trust myself, I know how I tend to do things or if I don’t know, I know that I’ll figure it out. Moving from that into okay, what does the client really need? What are they really saying, or maybe what are they not saying, if I’m reading between the lines? That’s a process for therapists to go through and to get comfortable with. Oftentimes, when clinicians are faced with clients, they want to get better; the clients want to get better. They’re looking for answers, they’re looking for fixes, they’re looking for homework tasks to do. And it’s really easy to get caught up in that like, okay, let’s just fix this, or, hey, here’s what you need to do. And that kind of becomes the therapeutic relationship. And that’s okay. I mean, that’s one level of change. You know, there’s this first order change, and then second order change. So that can facilitate that immediate level of change.
But oftentimes, at least in my practice, we also focus on that second order change, which is getting at the root issue of, why does this issue present itself in the first place? Let’s go back to the source. Maybe it’s a sense of worthlessness or there’s some deep shame that’s going on there. And so, helping clinicians to not just look at the what’s right in front of you, surfacey or, fix it sort of a thing and move into, okay, what does the client need, even if they are not able to articulate that they need it? How can I detect that and speak to that need and help the client become aware of that so that we can work on that? To me, makes better treatment outcomes.[ALISON]:
Yeah, and not being afraid to go there, right? [AARON]:
Right. Yeah, I think, I encounter this topic a lot with private practice owners that I’m working with in consultation; they start a group practice and they end up having a therapist maybe that, like you said, is having trouble maybe retaining clients, or just basically need some coaching around that. And so I think a big piece of that too, is making sure you have the… some important pieces in the informed consent, but also that you’re going over that with the client in therapy, not just giving them the paper to sign and never talking about it again. And I know you had a couple things around that, that you have figured out are important to address with the clients and also obviously, to teach your therapists to address with clients as well. So, what are some of those things? [AARON]:
Yeah. So, I think a lot of times as therapists, when we’re in the room with clients, we’re figuring out that relationship and that’s the most important thing to us. Documentation would probably be the least important thing to us, although we know we have to. But somewhere in between there are these little, subtle things that happen within the therapeutic relationship. Things like scheduling, or filling out paperwork, or talking about how often we’re going to be meeting, or taking care of the money, the financial issues. All of these things to me are also important to the therapeutic relationship and to the treatment process. So, for example, I try to train my clinicians all the way through from that very first contact with a potential client or a new intake, all the way through discharge. So, when somebody comes in and they’re meeting you for the first time, they’ve got their own ideas about what treatment looks like, about how you work, well they may have some ideas about how you work, but how therapy works and what they’re expected to do. Like, I’m going to do homework and maybe I’m going to meet every couple of weeks, or whatever. But I can define that.
At our agency, people come to us and they learn our system, and we try to fold them and teach them into that by talking about okay, this is what you can expect from us. You’re hiring us to do a certain job, to help you with an issue and we take that very seriously. And so, we want to accomplish as much as where you’re hiring us for as possible. And so that might come up later on, where maybe you’ve got an internal struggle, where this is harder than you thought it was going to be, and we are going to support you through that. But we’re also going to try to continue working towards your goals, because that’s what you hired us for. And some of that comes out in scheduling. Like if somebody says, hey, I’ve got this deep issue, you know, can I come in once a month and deal with it? We’ll have to norm their expectations so that they adjust to, you know, that’s probably not going to work. Or, if you want to get better soon, then meeting once a month is probably not going to accomplish that.
So, explaining all these things, and talking about all these things within the therapeutic relationship, I think is really important. It helps to align the therapists with the client in the direction of therapy, so that everybody’s on the same page. And sometimes those issues where a client falls off or doesn’t want to come as often or gets stuck, oftentimes is a result of, they’ve got some expectations that maybe they didn’t realize, that are not in alignment with the therapist’s. And then we need to ask them about that. Hey, what’s going on? You haven’t been coming in as often, or you’ve been canceling a lot recently, is something going on? Sometimes, and we’ve seen this a lot with this whole Coronavirus thing, it’s a financial issue. They are working less and we didn’t realize that. Maybe we thought, oh, they’re resisting therapy. But no, it could just be a financial issue. And we can make some adjustments like, hey, maybe if we meet every other week for a time until you get back on your feet, would that help your process? I think that’s just good treatment.[ALISON]:
Yeah, I’m really glad you brought that up. Because I think a lot of times too clients are looking to us to orient them and tell them like, okay, how is this supposed to go? Especially if they’ve never had any experience with therapy before. And I’ve had that exact same situation where a client’s telling me this pretty intense story, or they’re having these pretty severe symptoms and then they’re like, I think I’m just gonna come once a month. [AARON]:
And I’m like, well, that’s probably not going to be super helpful because… And then explaining why, and explaining how, ideally, they would start out coming once a week. So, yeah, I think that’s so important because we might just make an assumption that like, oh, clients know this, but they may not. We may have to be very concrete with them about, this is how this is going to go. [AARON]:
Yeah, and if you if you think about it, when you go to another business, maybe that you’ve never been to before, and let’s just say it’s like a… not necessarily a retail store, but like a service store, like a mechanic or something, or a doctor’s office. When you walk through the door, you’re looking around expecting to have them tell you, what am I supposed to do? Okay, I sit here, or do I go talk to somebody or do I fill out paperwork or after I fill that out, now what? Or after I’ve had this meeting or done the service, okay, what can I expect after that? So, when you think about it from the client standpoint, they’re actually unknowingly oftentimes looking for a lot of guidance. And so, the more we can be aware of that and really guide them through that whole process, they’ll feel safe. They’ll trust us. And they’re more likely, I think, to collaborate with us, particularly later on down the road when we might have to challenge them. [ALISON]:
Yeah, definitely. What are some other things around that maybe initial session, or going over those elements in the informed consent that you think are important? [AARON]:
Yeah. One thing that I haven’t heard a lot of clinicians talk with their clients about is, I always have this little spiel that I give people about confidentiality. And if I happen to see you out in public, then I’m never going to come up and say hi to you, not because I don’t want to talk to you, but because I’m respecting your privacy. So if you happen to see me at a grocery store, movie theater or one time I saw somebody at the beach even, a couple of hours from here, I’ve just let them know, hey, it’s nothing personal. I want to respect your privacy, you’re welcome to turn the other way and just avoid me, and I’m going to give you that space.
But just things like that are so helpful because that, at least around here, it’s a suburb of the Portland Metro area, that does happen on occasion where you’ll see people and they get really uncomfortable, and obviously I’m trying to stay away from them and not say hi, unless they come up and talk to me. But then at that next session after that’s happened, I’ll mention it and I’ll say, hey, I just wanted to remind you, this is what I mentioned in the first session, and they’ll remember and will say, oh, yeah I thought it was a little bit weird, but then I remembered you had said this before, and then I didn’t take it personally, and I knew what you’re doing and that made me appreciate you and appreciate your mindfulness about that in letting me know ahead of time. So, all those things really, to me are us taking care of the clients, because they’re doing this really hard work, and they need to know that we’re looking out for them.[ALISON]:
Yeah, I really like that. It’s like you’re addressing the issue before it becomes an issue. And then I can see how the client, or even us as the therapist feels, flustered, like, oh, my gosh, there’s my client, but then, because you know you’ve had that conversation beforehand, hopefully it doesn’t feel as like it’s as big of a deal. Yeah. [AARON]:
Yeah. And even making the idea of talking about these things as a pattern or habit, just creates an environment of safety and openness with clients that if they have an issue or a concern, they can bring it to me, and I want them. I want to know if they’ve got some concern or something that pops up that I’m not aware of, because that inevitably could become an issue that does present a hindrance to our treatment. [ALISON]:
Right, right. Anything else around the informed consent process? [AARON]:
Yeah, I think just the more we clarify those things with our clients, the more we understand our role, they understand their role. It really focuses the therapy process together on the same page. And then it can help us just know if this is a client issue, you know, scheduling or expectations or money, or is this a therapist issue? And are we having some of our own stuff pop up? [ALISON]:
Yeah, I think that’s super important. And I’m glad that you brought that up because again, I think it’s good that we’re having those conversations early on in the treatment process so that everybody is on the same page and it is clear what is happening. I know the last topic that you wanted to talk about is around more… I don’t know if you would describe it as marketing or just the whole kind of concept of ideal clients, right? So, we talk a lot about that phrase with niche marketing; you have to identify who is your ideal client. So, you want to tell us a little bit more about that? [AARON]:
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So when I started in grad school, I started out after grad school, I wanted to build my private practice and see as many clients as I could, and get up and going, and I was really afraid of niching down because I figured, well, if I say no to this person, or these people, then that’s one less client that I have, and I’m really trying to grow this thing. And so, for myself, and a lot of clinicians I know, they start out as these generalists, you know, oh, sure, we see anxiety and depression and trauma and addictions, just really anything that will come our way. And as time goes on, some of those issues or client populations can actually wear us down. For some people being a generalist is great, and that’s totally fine and that works for them. And for other people actually discovering that we’re really good at, and we really enjoy, a certain specialty is the direction that we need to go.
And that took me a number of years to learn that, and as a supervisor and manager of my businesses, I require that now because I see the value in it. I’m sold on it now. Helping clinicians identify, who do you really, really enjoy working with? What brings you passion? To use a Marie Kondo phrase, if you had a client coming through your door with this issue, do they bring you joy to be working with them? So, helping clinicians understand that and figure that out for themselves is a process I go through with them. And it’s not easy because I think a lot of people it’s a huge mind shift, just like it was for me over the course of many years, to figure out yeah, okay, out of all my clients, if I had to pick a couple that I’m really excited about, and multiply them onto my caseload, what would that be like? How would I feel going to work every day and just seeing these issues or these populations of people? And as I pitch that to people, they start to see wow, yeah, I think I really do enjoy those. And then I start marketing toward those niches, putting service pages on my website that are specific to those issues, and connected with each one of those clinicians. And I’ve found that my clinicians – I don’t have any statistics on it cos I didn’t do any research – but it seems like I can tell that they feel more comfortable with themselves, and they’re happier with their work because they’re getting more of what they’re really looking forward to.[ALISON]:
Yeah, I love this. And I am actually a big believer in this as well. And this is what I do with my own clinicians. So, a lot of times they are coming from community mental health where they’re told, you have to see everybody and anybody. And I think the field of counseling is so broad, you just can’t be really good at all of those things. And I think obviously, people develop their own passions as well. And so, they’re going to feel good about helping the people they’re most passionate about and they feel like they’re doing their best work. And when I hire people, and I tell them in the interview, like, I don’t want you to be a generalist, I want you to pick a niche, and we’re going to market that niche. And then, if there’s clients who come along that you don’t want to work with, like, I want to know that too, because we don’t want to give you those clients. And look on their face when I tell them that, they’re just like, oh, my gosh, this is amazing. [AARON]:
Right. I can’t tell you how many times I talk with other therapists and, just in conversation, they might say, oh, I had to refer somebody out for child therapy, because I don’t work with kids and , not that that’s bad or whatever. I’m like, no, hey, if you don’t work with kids, that’s great. You know your limits. Or if people are like, yeah, I don’t do couples. I’m like, great, I’ll send those people to somebody else who’s really excited to work with them. [ALISON]:
Yeah, and I do the exact same thing. And ultimately, I think it’s not only good for staff retention, because if they’re working with people that they feel they’re able to help and feel passionate about, obviously they’re gonna feel good coming to work every day. But also, they’re going to be doing their best work with the clients. So, it’s just a win-win for everybody. [AARON]:
Right, and as a business owner, that’s exactly what I’m looking for. I want to, if I can, as best as possible, train my clinicians to avoid any kind of burnout, to be able to do their best, because I also want the clients to get the best outcome. And when you put those two things together, you know, clients are receiving the best services from people who are really excited and passionate about doing the work, I think they’re gonna more likely give you referrals to other people; your word of mouth is going to grow and you’re going to develop a good reputation as an organization. [ALISON]:
Yeah, definitely. When you get a new clinician in your practice, is that sometimes hard for them to decide who they want to work with? Or what kind of population they want to market to? [AARON]:
Absolutely, it is. In fact, I just hired somebody this past week. So, I’m going to be going through that again. Yeah. And I would say oftentimes, I do find myself rescuing clinicians, if you will, from community mental health or from situations of burnout. And you’re right, you’re exactly right. Going from that, I have to see everybody, I can’t really pick and choose, into, wait a minute, I can pick and choose? There’s a huge amount of personal guilt that goes with that. Because therapists generally have big hearts. We want to help people; we want to help the most amount of people. And so, saying ‘No’ to some people kind of feels wrong. But helping clinicians to understand that you’re not saying ‘No’ to those people, you’re saying ‘Yes’ to all the right people that really bring you energy and that you’re gonna help the most, or the best. That shift, I think, takes some time for people to wrap their minds and emotions around. But inevitably, they’re always like, wow, this has been so good. I just feel so much more excited to do this work, and I’m revived again. [ALISON]:
Yeah, that’s great. I’ve had the same experience. Some of the therapists I’ve hired know right away, like, this is my niche. And then other ones, it’s taken a lot of coaching on my end to help them figure it out. And it’s always funny, because when I ask people to define their niche, they’re like, well, I like working with people who are motivated. Doesn’t everybody. That’s not a niche. [AARON]:
I like people who can pay for all their services on time. Like, okay, that’s good. [ALISON]:
Yes. I like people who are reliable, who are gonna show up for their appointment every time. We all do. That’s not a niche. Yeah. So, it takes them a while sometimes to wrap their head around how to define that, and obviously then how to explain that when they’re marketing themselves. [AARON]:
Yeah, exactly. Yeah, that’s the other thing too, is figuring out how to market that too. Because you run into that – it’s a little bit of a rabbit trail here, but marketing people getting clinicians to talk about themselves and sell themselves in that way is so hard. But once you realize like, okay, this is what I enjoyed. I’m just telling people like, hey, if you have these issues, I’m really excited to work with you. Come talk to me. That shift, once people accept it, is like, oh, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And I do want those people to come to me. [ALISON]:
Yeah, that’s great. Yeah. One other thing I was wondering about… I think all of the topics that you went through are great, and I think they’re gonna be super helpful for practice owners. I wonder, though, are you like, talking about this? I know you were saying, you end up addressing these things in clinical supervision, or when you hire a new therapist, do you try to do this in the training onboarding process, or how do you impart this information to your staff? [AARON]:
Yes, absolutely. When I did it the first time with my first employee, well, intern and employee, figuring those kinds of things out, I just started developing processes because I didn’t want to do something and have to reinvent the wheel. So, just about every time I figured something out like this, I decided to go back and make a list or an outline or a checklist, something that I can go back to the next time. So, I’ve got a checklist of things, intake things that I do to onboard people, as well as things with new clinicians to orient them to how we do things as a practice. And all these things are a part of that. And if I’m seeing an intern who’s working towards supervision, then this goes on our supervision contract as well, along with some other specific skill-related things, therapeutic skills. But yeah, I try to onboard people with this and hit it right away, because I want them to know that this is the culture of our organization and this is what makes us successful. [ALISON]:
Yeah, and I think too, like we were talking about in the beginning, obviously, if your therapists are giving good service, and they’re retaining their clients, ultimately that’s going to help you, the business owner, because you’re not going to have to work as hard to get as many clients if the clients are sticking. And it’s usually a big headache as a practice owner, to have a struggling therapist that, their schedule is only half full or whatever the case may be. So, I think for as much as we went over a lot of clinical pieces, I think so much of this feeds into providing good service and then having the business be successful as well. [AARON]:
Exactly. I want to find that out as early as possible, to make sure that this is the best fit as I’m helping employees figure this out for themselves. If it’s taking a while, if I get some resistance, I’m going to be able to address that earlier on and make sure this is going to be a good fit. But the other thing, too, that you mentioned is, just as a business owner perspective, obviously, if my clinicians are able to do this well, then it’s less work for me. But it’s also sending the message of leadership and vision and direction to these employees, letting them know, hey, this guy’s got things figured out. This company knows who they are and how they do things and that makes me feel really comfortable. And that’s something I want as an organization. [ALISON]:
Yeah, that’s great. I can tell you really thought through the vision and the values in your business. [AARON]:
Thank you. [ALISON]:
Yeah. So, just changing the subject a little bit, I saw that you are on the list of speakers for Killin’It Camp 2020. [AARON]:
I am, yeah. Do your listeners know about that? Killin’It Camp? [ALISON]:
I don’t know. Maybe I should explain it to them. [AARON]:
Absolutely. Everybody needs to know about Killin’It Camp, for sure. [ALISON]:
Yeah. So, Killin’It Camp is an event that Practice of the Practice puts on in Estes Park, Colorado, and this year it’s going to be in October. And we had it for the first time last year and this coming year it’s going to be expanded; there are many more speakers. And last year was just an amazing time of meeting people and networking and the speakers were great, but then also the interactions happening outside of the speaking times. The presentations were awesome as well, and just having an opportunity to eat meals and get to know people together was all very cool. So, tell us about what you’re presenting about at Killin’It Camp. [AARON]:
Yeah, absolutely. And I just would love to give a plug – I’m not getting paid or sponsored for this, although I’m open to bribes – I went to Killin’It Camp last year and it was fantastic. I would say it was a game-changer for me. Just from the standpoint, as a business owner, of getting that direction and advice and networking and just ideas, as a business owner, for how to manage the business side of things. Because that’s just not talked about in grad school; obviously, Joe does a lot of that, but it just was even more specific or personal to each one of our businesses because it was so intimate. So, I’m looking forward to that again, and meeting some new people.
But I’m going to be speaking on this topic… I’ve actually developed a whole couple of pages of issues and topics related to managing your business within the clinical supervision realm, or the supervision of employees realm, to help your business succeed. So, yeah, some of this, I’ll go over, but there’s a whole bunch more like the development of an intern or a supervisee. That just understanding those processes will help you to develop good clinicians that are more likely to trust you and stay with you over time. Because that’s what I want; I want to keep clinicians around and I want to provide good outcomes for clients.[ALISON]:
That is awesome. I’m really looking forward to… Hopefully we’ll all be together in Colorado. But if we’re not, I think we’re still going to do a virtual conference. So, either way, I’ll look forward to hearing your talk and wanted to say thank you so much for coming on the podcast today. And can you tell our listeners a little bit more about how they can get in touch with you if they are interested? [AARON]:
Yeah, thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate what you’re doing, and just all the material and insights you have just been so valuable. So, appreciate you having me on. You guys can find me on my website, www.discovercounseling.com. And then I’m also on Facebook and Instagram @discovercounseling. [ALISON]:
Great. All right. Thank you so much, Aaron. Have a great day. [AARON]:
Thanks, Alison. You too. [ALISON]:
There were so many valuable pieces of information in that interview. I hope you found it helpful. And if you are thinking about attending Killin’It Camp, Aaron is going to be one of the speakers. So, whether we meet in person or do a virtual conference, I definitely think it would be worthwhile to supercharge your business and get new ideas for building your practice. So, definitely check it out at killinitcamp.com, and I will be there as well.
This podcast is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regards to the subject matter covered. This is given with the understanding that neither the host, Practice of the Practice, or the guests are providing legal, mental health, or other professional information. If you need a professional, you should find one.